"Rob McKenna got it exactly right," says conservative political consultant Mariana Parks. That might be exactly the opposite of how most people are viewing this morning's U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding ObamaCare. But, as the political fallout begins, that is the way some Republicans are trying to frame the news.
Yes, the justices upheld the controversial individual mandate to buy insurance--but only by framing the penalty for the non-compliant as a tax. They did not buy President Obama's position that the mandate was justified by the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. And since McKenna attacked the Commerce Clause rationale (as did other suing attorneys general), Parks reasons, he was validated by the Supreme Court.
In a just-completed press conference, McKenna didn't say he was right in so many words. But he did say, "We achieved our goal." His reasoning was that the Supremes confirmed that "Congress does not have the power of forcing you into the stream of commerce. "
Well, actually, Congress apparently does, as long as the mechanism of coercion is a tax (a word, state Republican chair Kirby Wilbur said in a statement this morning, Obama had "rejected repeatedly in his pitch to the public.")
It seems highly unlikely, though, that voters will delve into those distinctions. McKenna lost his challenge, that is going to be the salient point in the Republican attorney general's gubernatorial bid against Democrat Jay Inslee. Even so, whether that helps McKenna or hurts him is not as obvious as it might appear.
Contrary to how it might seem, the ruling didn't settle the matter of the Affordable Care Act. It heated things up. Republicans, observes Democratic political consultant Blair Butterworth, "see red meat." Already this morning, Republican presumptive nominee Mitt Romney and others are declaring that the battle has now shifted to the political arena, where they will try to repeal the act. Meanwhile, Butterworth says "Democrats, maybe for the first time, are going to have to have a campaign defending [ObamaCare].
That's the backdrop against which the McKenna-Inslee race will play out. It's one McKenna at this morning's press conference tried to distance himself from. Asked whether he now supports repealing the Affordable Care Act, he said no. He called that scenario "completely politically unrealistic" and said he supported many provisions of the act.
Yet, Butterworth speculates that the national politicking will work against McKenna because it will give Inslee "a wedge." Butterworth contends that the race as yet has not produced many sharp policy differences between the two men. This, he says, creates one and gives Inslee a chance to show the kind of passion that has seemed lacking.
Says Butterworth, "He can say, why the hell were you doing this in the first place?"
But the loss does do one thing for McKenna. It enables him to avoid a backlash. Had the Affordable Care Act been thrown out, agrees DJ Wilson, president of a public affairs company focusing on health care, "liberals would have been on fire."
In a state full of them, that might just have been even worse news for McKenna.